An hour before the convening of the county’s Democratic caucus on May 11, the two candidates for the Board of Supervisors from the Samuel Miller District—pharmacist Madison Cummings and architect Lucia Phinney—stood in the foyer of the County Office Building and watched as Albemarle Democratic Committee Chair Fred Hudson fingered a silver dollar he was preparing to flip in the air. Then Phinney called out “heads” as the coin tumbled, and moments later the UVA architecture professor had won the toss. As it turned out, it was her sole victory of the night.
“I think she’s done a yeoman’s work on the board,” says Madison Cummings of retiring County Supervisor Sally Thomas, whom he wants to replace. “She tried to keep growth from being rampant.”
Two hours later, Cummings was declared the winner (by more than 20 votes) in the only contested race of the night (David Slutzky also accepted his party’s nomination for re-election to the Board, and Cynthia Neff will run against state delegate Rob Bell). The candidate, who will turn 66 in June, first moved to Charlottesville in 1970, and then to the county—North Garden, to be precise—in 1978. For much of that time, he has worked as a pharmacist at UVA, retiring in 2004 (he still works part-time). He has also served in a civic role for many years, beginning most notably in 1994 when he was appointed to serve on the school board by Sally Thomas, the supervisor he is now trying to replace.
“I think she’s done a yeoman’s work on the board,” says Cummings, who is also the current Samuel Miller Democratic chair. So perhaps it makes sense for him to fill in for Thomas who is stepping down after 15 years of service. Even though she was elected as an Independent, her anti-growth stance earned her the admiration and acceptance of Democrats, and the ire of developers like Wendell Wood.
Cummings, who resembles a slightly stouter William Faulkner, characterizes Thomas’ position as not necessarily against growth but in favor of reasonable expansion. “[She tried] to keep growth from being rampant by trying to keep [it] in the urban ring, and to maintain the beauty of what I really consider the English countryside out in the county.” If he is elected in November, he vows to continue that legacy. “My greatest motivation is to keep maintaining what she has achieved,” he says, “and also to make it better.”
With the Democratic nomination in hand, Cummings will now face Independent candidate John Lowry (if he is able to gain enough signatures to get on the ballot). If put into office, it is easy to foresee Cummings—with an extremely genial manner—working with the other Supervisors, as well as other political entities in both the county and city, to achieve pragmatic results, as he has vowed to do with the completion of the Meadowcreek Parkway. “Sometimes you have to come to a compromise,” he says. “You don’t compromise your principles, but you’ve got to get stuff done.”
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